As we approach the Christmas period, the new programmes populating our TVs are incredibly scarce. Due to this, the latest Matt on the Box will look at three BBC dramas, two of which debuted a few weeks ago.
But we start with a drama that has yet to be touched upon in this column; the supernatural drama that was Remember Me. This three-parter initially focused on Tom Parfitt (Michael Pailn); a curmudgeonly pensioner who wanted to leave his house for some reason. After making out like he’d fallen down the stairs, Tom was assigned to an Old Folks’ Home by his social worker Alison (Rebekah Staton). Running simultaneously to Tom’s story was that of Hannah (Jodie Comer), a young care worker at the home who’d also taken on the responsibility of running the household due to the incompetence of her emotionally unstable mother (Julia Sawahla). The third disparate character of the piece was Rob (Mark Addy); a copper who’d recently ruined his chances at a promotion and was living alone after his family had emigrated to Australia. Rob, Hannah and Tom’s stories intertwined after Alison appeared to have been pushed out of the window in Tom’s room. With Hannah being the first person on the scene, she was a vital witness for Rob even though she didn’t quite know what was going on herself. However; the atmospheric visuals of Remember Me were telling a very different story as lights flickered, water ran and booming sirens rang out just before Alison plummeted to her death. The first episode ended with an incredibly nail-biting and well-directed set piece as the sons of Tom’s neighbour decided to break into his house and rob any antiques they could get their hands on. But, whatever spirit that haunted the house was determined to hunt them down before they could leave.
I personally felt that this incredible set piece was the peak of Remember Me as nothing in the next two episodes could live up to these chilling scenes. The fact that the kids got out of the house unscathed almost lessened the impact of the sequence and the next victim of the spirit turned out to be one of Hannah’s co-workers. Seeing as Remember Me was promoted as a Michael Palin vehicle it was interesting that he hardly featured in the second episode. It was instead devoted to Rob’s determination to track down Alison’s killer and discover why the 110-year-old Tom still looked so young. We also learnt more about Hannah, who was struggling to deal with the grief of her father’s death, as she headed to Scarborough to track down Tom. But the trip ultimately put her brother in peril and she then tried to stop him from becoming the latest victim of the spirit. Although I enjoyed how the story of Gwyneth Hughes’ drama was based around the construction of ‘Scarborough Fair’ I still found the final episode rather anticlimactic. This is especially true of Remember Me’s supernatural elements as the reveal of the identity of the spirit was rather disappointing. What kept the drama going for me was the more human elements most notably Hannah’s feeling towards her mother, which were wrapped up in an especially powerful scene. I was quite glad then that Hannah got a happy ending of sorts even if the drama was wrapped up a little too neatly for more liking.
Although I found the series to be patchy at best; Remember Me definitely had its moments and was bolstered by three great leading turns. Remember Me’s greatest achievement was the star-making turn from Jodie Comer as the emotionally distraught Hannah. Any fans of My Mad Fat Diary will know how good Comer is already and the fact that she was able to anchor a primetime BBC One drama demonstrates just how fantastic she is. I felt that her incredibly expressive facial expressions told more of a story than Hughes’ script did and I found she rather outshone her more experienced co-stars. Even though he wasn’t in the drama as much as I thought he’d be, Michael Palin still made quite an impression as a character who wasn’t exactly the hero of the piece. In fact I found it rather shocking when Palin almost turned Tom into a thoughtless monster who was more than willing to sacrifice two children rather than succumb to the spirit that had haunted him all his life. Additionally Julia Sawhala gave an interesting turn as the somewhat absent mother in what I felt was a departure from the parts she normally plays. I also think that the sound team deserve credit for creating a rather ominous mood throughout the piece and particularly for the fact that I’ll never be able to listen to ‘Scarborough Fair’ in the same way again. But the cast and sound team can’t disguise the fact that Remember Me’s final scenes were rather lacklustre. This is a shame as TV drama was crying out for a really involving supernatural thriller but unfortunately Remember Me was simply not the sum of its parts.
One drama that I feel has just got better as its progressed is BBC One’s The Missing which is now approaching its final two episodes. When the drama first began a lot of people, including myself, drew inevitable conclusions between it and ITV’s Broadchurch primarily as both dealt with the grief experienced by parents following a tragic incident involving a son. However, with each episode, writers Jack and Harry Williams have taken us in different directions as, in the present, grieving father Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) attempts to get to the bottom of his son’s disappearance. There are a number of differences between The Missing and other British crime dramas most notably its pacing. There have been a lot of complaints on Twitter about the confusing nature of the plot however I personally believe that these audience members aren’t giving the drama their full attention. I feel as if The Missing is channelling the spirit of Nordic Noirs with its multi-character structure and twist-laden denouements. I’ve also got to applaud the Williams brothers for their brave characterisation and particularly their portrayal of paedophile Vincent Bourg (Titus de Vogdt). Although he was introduced as a potential suspect, Bourg was later used as a way to demonstrate Tony’s violent nature as he attempted to make the link between Vincent and seemingly kindly property tycoon Ian Garrett (Ken Stott). The fact that Tony later murdered Garrett, after discovering the true nature of his character, painted him in a whole new light and made it clear why he and wife Emily (Frances O’Connor) were now divorced.
The fact that there are no true heroes and villains in The Missing is another one of its strengths as each character is painted in shades of grey. Even the more compassionate characters; such as Emily’s new partner Mark (Jason Flemyng) and investigating officer Julien (Tcheky Karyo) aren’t exactly whiter-than-white. Another great element of The Missing is that it’s not just about the investigation into Oliver’s disappearance and instead is a character study of those who’ve been wrapped up in the case for the last eight years. In fact, unlike other dramas in the same vein, I’ve not been that bothered about who abducted Oliver and instead have allowed myself to get swept up in the action. This has been particularly easy thanks to the assured direction of Tom Shankland, who has made each one of the drama’s set pieces enthralling and exhilarating. Meanwhile, the ensemble cast has been utterly brilliant throughout as each actor has seemingly got to great lengths to make you care about their characters. James Nesbitt in particular has given a BAFTA-worthy turn as the morally ambiguous Tony, whose obsessive personality has allowed his son’s disappearance to engulf his life for the past eight years. Nesbitt’s performance in the modern day scenes is particularly impressive as he’s able to portray Tony as the shell of the man he once was. As his wife, Frances O’Connor is almost the heart of the show and her performance in the sixth episode, in which Emily almost commits suicide, was particularly moving. Meanwhile, in supporting roles, Tcheky Karyo and Ken Stott have given gripping turns that have made their characters incredibly memorable. Though it’s not perfect, The Missing’s pacing and set pieces have marked it out as one of the dramas of the year and I’m just hoping that the conclusion is as great as the series has been so far.
Another series which only has a couple of episodes to go is BBC Two’s The Fall; which I don’t feel really needed a second run. Since we last checked in on the Belfast-set serial killer yarn DCI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) has now figured out that grief counsellor Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) is the man she’s been looking for. Unfortunately, he remains one step ahead of her as we’ve seen him break into her hotel room and leave her suggestive notes. The cat-and-mouse game between Stella and Paul has been incredibly involving and has kept this second series interesting. I’ve personally enjoyed the investigation aspect of the drama and in particular the way the police are keeping tabs on Paul’s unsuspecting family. However, I can’t say I’m that bothered by any of Paul’s other endeavours and I especially have little time for his training of infatuated teenage babysitter Katie (Aisling Franciosi). In fact I feel that a lot of these scenes have purely been constructed so Jamie Dornan can appear topless in as many scenes as possible. Similarly I find Stella’s personal life hard to care about and I thought that her suggestion of a liaison with pathologist Reed Smith (Archie Panjabi) was incredibly out-of-character. To move his drama along, writer Alan Cubitt has introduced a new storyline where the police are racing against time to save Spector’s latest victim Rose Stagg (Valene Kane). But this latest subplot just feels like a way to string out a series that would’ve been more impactful if it had ended after its first run. That’s not to say that The Fall is in anyway a bad drama as Anderson is particularly strong and the moody set pieces are fairly engaging. But I ultimately believe that The Fall is limping to its conclusion and I can’t possibly see how Cubitt can drag out his story for another two and a half hours.
That’s your lot for now, for more of my view on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites